Five days of relaxation, connection, sustainability, and being fully present. The Ecosystem Retreat was motivated by connection, as Hilary Matson and I (Erika Rodriguez) have known each other digitally since 2020 but have never met in person. As I started The Ecosystem and met more like-minded entrepreneurs online, I knew when the time was right, we must plan an in-person event. At the beginning of 2022, Hilary and I decided to organize a retreat and invite others to join. From October 6th through October 10th, Hilary and I co-hosted the first Ecosystem Retreat in Alentejo, Southwest Portugal. As I reflect on the retreat, I want to share five key takeaways from our first retreat.

1. Real-Life Connections

Entrepreneurship is difficult at times. During the pandemic, when I could not find community in person, I began to search for digital communities. I started The Ecosystem to create a space for eco-minded entrepreneurs with the same values as me. That’s where I began to truly find my community of mission-driven entrepreneurs who were socially and environmentally responsible. As I talked to ecopreneurs weekly, I missed that in-person interaction. There’s something different when you meet someone face-to-face vs. a 1:1 zoom chat. This retreat brought us together in a different country, which added to the magic of our meeting in real life. I felt instantly connected with these girls as I knew them online, but it felt like the last puzzle piece was put in place.

2. Bonding Through Outdoor Activities

Keeping ourselves active throughout the retreat was an amazing experience. Hilary worked with her sustainable travel operator to create a special itinerary for us. This provided a great balance of structure and free time, especially since even the planned activities were optional for participants.

  • Day 1: Arrive in Lisbon, transfer to the retreat center, dinner
  • Day 2: Yoga, brunch, visit the small waterfront town of Vila Nova de Milfontes,free time, dinner
  • Day 3: Brunch, coastal hike along the Fisherman Trail of the Vicentine Route, visit a local artisan market, yoga, free time, dinner
  • Day 4: Brunch, free time (power hour!), yoga, visit a sustainable winery 
  • Day 5: Yoga, brunch, check out

Additional activities like doing a surfing class, getting a massage, or trying stand-up paddle boarding & kayak tours, horseback riding, and photography sessions were great for everyone to choose what they wanted. I did a full-body massage, and it was perfect. I felt like I was glowing after.

3. Organic Entrepreneur Conversations

When planning the retreat, the business development program was going to be light. I wanted the retreat to focus more on connection and business second. Hilary and I thought about potential speakers and presentations, and we’re glad we didn’t go that route. The retreat sparked organic entrepreneurial conversations among attendees. Here are some of the topics that came up:

  • Lead Generation
  • Time Management
  • Contracts
  • Partnerships
  • SEO
  • Website Management
  • Clients

One participant even got her website looked at by the SEO specialist and had a few 1:1 website optimization discussions while chilling by the poolside. I loved the organic conversations that were happening throughout the retreat. Next year, I plan to have one or two things organized for business development programming but will keep it light to encourage more organic conversations.

4. Power Hours

I was preparing to sneak off and do some work as I had a few tasks that I could not hold off on. I should have known that this would be the group to do power hours with! It was great to be with my people and host mini coworking session power hours before we ran off to our activities. Not only did I get my task done and not feel guilty about working, but this group also empowered me to do a little work and feel blessed when we did our relaxing activities. Also, some people didn’t work at all and chilled by the pool, read a book, went into town, and completely relaxed, which was great to see.

5. Sustainability Tours

One of my favorite parts of the retreat was learning about sustainability practices from the retreat center and the winery. The retreat center owners, Vera and Cam, were a sweet young couple who cared about their land and wanted to uplevel their community. They mentioned installing solar panels for hot water and electricity, purchasing local goods from their neighbors, using reclaimed materials, and employing locals for the new retreat build-out. Other environmental initiatives include avoiding single-use plastic, composting organic waste, and practicing organic farming. Our meals included fruits, vegetables, nuts, and leaves from their land, giving us a true farm-to-fork experience.

The sustainable winery we toured is managed by the 4th and 5th generation: Isabel and her son Luís Lufinha Mota Capitão. In addition to practicing regenerative agriculture and low chemical intervention, the word “intentional” remained throughout the tour. It seemed like every practice and material in this winery was intentional. The family is building a forest using agroforestry philosophy, it’s mind-blowing to see one family create this impact, and as Luis shared with us, he’s sharing his practices with other winemakers as Portugal is only going to get hotter with climate change. The packaging of the wines includes local cork from Alentejo and a seal made from beeswax, which is from his region. Even our tapas were served on tree bark from the land.

All the girls on The Ecosystem Retreat and Winery Owner, Luís Lufinha Mota Capitão, center.

In partnership with Yugen Earthside, The Ecosystem Retreat acknowledges that we cannot be 100% sustainable when traveling. We offered the purchase of carbon offset, and 80% of participants carbon offset their flights. Participants offset more than 5 metric tons through Sustainable Travel International.

The Ecosystem Retreat was an amazing experience, and we are considering making this an annual retreat to connect mission-driven entrepreneurs. The 2nd year retreat will be at the same retreat center in Portugal for a 5-day/4 night experience, date to be determined based on availability. Please fill out our form if you are interested in joining us for a retreat like this in 2023.